Reprinted, with permission, from:

Volume 2, Issue 3
23 February 2001

Critical Success Factors: eLearning Solutions

Marion Wands and Andrew Le Blanc
[email protected]

Critical Success Factors: eLearning Solutions is an edited version of a comprehensive document prepared for the Australian Tax Office by Marion Wands (DC) and Andrew Le Blanc (ATO) which was based largely on research done by Dr G. Cooper. For the full version of this document please email Dane Buchardt.

Organisational Factors

Technical Infrastructure

Understanding the implications of technical infrastructure on the application of eLearning media is essential to a successful strategy. Involvement of IT staff in the identification of suitable eLearning products will maximise the chance of selecting usable tools.

Clearly Defined Change Leadership Strategy

The effectiveness of the application of eLearning strategies will be enhanced by the implementation of a comprehensive change leadership program. This program will consist of identification of cultural issues that will affect individuals' willingness and ability to use the technology, skill development for key stakeholders, work practices, learning environments, strategic HR initiatives to support eLearning such as performance management, career planning, succession planning and communication briefings.

Management Support for Training

Management support for eLearning is critical to its overall success. It is essential that managers understand their roles and are able to use the various eLearning media competently. Their view of the eLearning media and public comments will greatly influence the success of the eLearning strategy.

General Factors

Adult Learning Principles

To achieve maximum learning benefit, adults need a number of characteristics to be present. The principles used in the ATO are outlined by the SMARTE model.

Student Centred - The learner has the opportunity for some input into the topics they learn, the depth and scope of the learning, timing (i.e., when they undertake learning) and the method or the approach they will take in order to undertake the learning.

Motivation to Learn - Adults tend to learn better if they are motivated to learn in the first place. Motivation usually results from the learner recognising a need to learn, either by themselves or by way of explanation.

Activity - Skills learned through guided practical experience are likely to be learned more thoroughly, better retained and are more likely to be used in the workplace.

Reward - Recognition and reinforcement of successful efforts or contributions increases the likelihood of the behaviour being repeated on the job.

Transfer is dependent on relevance of the learning to the learners job. New skills should be able to be applied directly back to the workplace.

Environment - People learn best in a supportive but relaxed and informal environment. The learning environment should be characterised by physical comfort, trust, respect, helpfulness, freedom of expression, acceptance of differences and tolerance of errors.

Clearly Defined Learning Outcomes (Objectives).

The learning outcomes (objectives) must be clearly presented to learners at the start of each lesson/module. Essentially learning outcomes are statements that answer the question: "What does the learner have to be able to do at the end of the period of instruction?" Learning outcomes are written from the learner's point of view. Learning outcomes could be defined as being short range, measurable achievements by which a specified competency can be achieved. Where a skill is involved learning outcomes are usually specified in terms of:

1. Performance - what the learner will be able to do as a result of what has been learned.

2. Standards - the minimum acceptable performance level the learner must demonstrate to be considered proficient, e.g. time, accuracy, completeness of task.

3. Conditions - any conditions under which the learning and assessment will take place.

Pretest Option

Learners should have option of being tested before the learning event thus avoiding repetition of material/activities in which they are already knowledgeable/ skilled, e.g. Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) or Recognition of Current Competencies (RCC).

Clearly Defined Learning Pathways

Where learning needs to be sequential and a preferred lesson pathway is to be followed, this should be clearly evident to learners. Learning can also be structured to allow learners to select their own pathway and choose learning elements that reflect their specific and current learning needs or expertise.


Assessment is the process of collecting and making the judgment as to whether competency with respect to the identified standard has been achieved. Assessment tasks, methods and condition must be fully stated and clear to the learners and be relevant to the stated learning outcomes. Assessment methods must be valid, reliable, flexible and fair.

Assessment must occur at the completion of a learning package and at the work place to determine level of skill retention

Cognitive Factors

Access to Useful Help Facilities

"Off-line" access such as paper-based manual is a bare minimum. "On-line" help facilities are useful but not if they are just electronic versions of the manuals. Useful help facilities have search options where learners can type in a request and receive direct help. For modules containing technical terminology a glossary is necessary. Human resources such as expert users or trainers can be available for technical advice or assistance. Help desk facilities are accessible.

User Control of Screen Information

The user is able to control the gradual laying of information onto a particular screen. Dense, complex screen dumps should be avoided.

Users should be able to see the whole screen without the need to use scrollbars. The amount of text displayed should be kept to a minimum, with sufficient space surrounding it to aid readability.

Simple User Interface

The user interface, and any associated navigation tool, must be easy to use. This means that What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG). Package needs to be well designed to assist user interface.

Access to presentation of complex information

Advanced learners should be able to access more detailed information especially when the package is designed for a range of learner backgrounds and when dealing with relatively complex information.

Complex and large quantities of information are best taught as discrete elements using rote learning to help learn each element and facilitate storage in long term memory. The relationship between these elements can then be learnt by completing worked examples. This will consolidate the depth of learning.

Adequate Number of Well Constructed and Varied Worked Examples

Relevant examples of learning points, both for demonstration and practice purposes, provide real life opportunities for learners to acquire workplace skills and expertise. This aids learning acquisition and subsequent utilisation and retention of learning on the job. Well structured examples neither overload learner memory by being too complicated, nor do they bore the learner by requiring excessive repetition. Different learners will, however, have different speeds of knowledge acquisition. Ideally, learning programs allow learners flexibility in determining how many practice examples they need to complete.

Interactive Learning

Interactive learning can be achieved across a variety of delivery modes. Learning interactions motivate learners and enhance learning. Multimedia packages can deliver highly interactive learning, but to be effective, the interactions need to be relevant and appropriate to the instructional purpose.

When a principle is being demonstrated or some material is being learned, interaction particularly interaction involving choices or decisions, should be kept to a minimum. Interaction should be employed when learners wish to "try out" the principle they are learning. Hints and help options are important resources for exploratory learning.

Adequate Feedback from the Computer

After learners attempt any interactive exercise they should be given immediate and adequate feedback. Yes, for correct response, and then generally there is a chance for learners to review their answer or solution (i.e. the screen does not automatically erase and move on to the next question). If a learner is incorrect then he/she should be told that they are incorrect. This is a bare minimum. Better still, hint facilities can be "built in". After one unsuccessful attempt, a hint could come up. The more unsuccessful attempts a learner should be shown the result. Proceeding in a trial and error manner is frustrating for learners and serves no useful purpose. Hints avoid trial and error behaviour of users.

Avoidance of Split Attention With Screen Design

Split attention occurs when a learner has to hold something in working memory while searching for a matching component. A classic example is the diagram and text, although split attention can occur whenever any two or more sources of information are presented separately on a screen and the learner must mentally integrate them together to make sense out of the material.

This is a criterion on which most, if not all packages, fail. Redesigning instructional materials to eliminate split attention facilitates learning. Techniques such as pointers or marquees can be useful in leading the eye to useful information.

Appropriate Use of Multimedia

Multimedia training offers the opportunity for a range of resources and effects to enhance the learning experience. The benefits of these must be weighed up in the context of the learning environment and the available resources. Sound, for instance, can enhance learning and create exciting interactions, but if the training is to be accessed in a workplace environment, the use of sound may disturb co-workers. Insufficient bandwidth and slow downloads may turn a "bells and whistles" online learning product into tiresomely slow delivery.

For simple content - use paper format.

For more difficult information use audio, possibly with voice over as the learner moves the mouse

Multimedia resources are most effective when they are chosen to reflect the needs of the users and the resources available.

Avoidance of Redundant Information

The most common version of redundancy encountered with multimedia design will be the repeating sound and visual text. In situations where a source of textual instruction, or a source of graphical instruction alone provides full intelligibility then only one source of instruction should be used (either the textual or the graphical), and the other source, which is redundant, should be removed completely from the instructional materials.

Mixed mode instructional format occurs where, for example, graphics are presented visually, while other information, such as text, is presented using audio.

© 2003 Internet Time Group, Berkeley, California